18 April 2011

the evolution of the left fielder, part 1

i'll start the left fielder evolution in the mid-50's with world series hero sandy amoros.  i'm starting there essentially because that's when baseballreference starts to differentiate the outfield positions on their team pages.  i'm lazy.

sandy amoros (1954-1956)
that 1955 topps card is sandy's rookie card, although he was a veteran of the negro leagues and debuted in the majors in 1954.  he's best remembered for his catch of a yogi berra fly ball that turned into a double play in game 7 of the 1955 world series, but amoros hit a home run in that series, and had an ops of 1.113.  unfortunately for amoros, he didn't do as well in the 1956 series, managing just one hit in 19 at bats.
gino cimoli (1957)
cimoli took over in left for the 1957 season, and made a splash.  by the way - i appreciate his 1958 card shown above because it looks like topps got rid of his bat for some reason.  cimoli established career highs in many categories during 1957, his first full season, and even made the all-star team.  he hit 10 homers, batted .293 and drove in 57 runs while playing 80 of his 142 games in left.  in the all-star game, cimoli appeared as a pinch hitter for pitcher larry jackson and struck out against billy pierce.  it was his only career all-star game appearance.

in 1958, cimoli shifted to center field and jim gilliam came from the infield to cover left.

jim gilliam (1958)
in total, gilliam only played 70 games in left field in 1958, but that was more games than anyone else.  the dodgers used a total of 13 different players out there in their first year in los angeles, including gil hodges, don zimmer and the previous year's left fielder, gino cimoli.  i am guessing noone was too comfortable playing in the short porch of the coliseum.

gilliam actually played all three outfield positions, as well as second and third, in 1958.  he made just one error in left, and had 5 assists from the position.  he also scored 81 runs and finished 19th in the league mvp voting.  in 1959, gilliam went back to being an infielder, so once again, a new face showed up in left field.
wally moon (1959-1961)
moon (and his fantastic unibrow as displayed on this 1959 topps card) had been acquired during the offseason in a trade with the cardinals for the aforementioned cimoli.  he took over in left and stayed there for three seasons - good seasons, in fact.  in 1959, moon led the league in triples and made the all-star team as the starting left fielder (he went 0 for 2 with a walk in the game).  he also finished 4th in the league mvp voting and helped the dodgers win their first world series title in los angeles.  in 1960, moon won a gold glove for his play in left (he had 14 assists), and in 1961, he hit .328 (4th best in the league) and led the league with an obp of .434.

moon began the 1962 season as the dodgers' starting left fielder, but moved to first base in late april to make room for 23-year old tommy davis. 
tommy davis (1962-1964)
davis had placed 5th in the 1960 nl roy voting and had been playing all three outfield positions with a little third base thrown in the mix during his first two years in the league.  in late april of 1962, walter alston stuck him in left field and let him take root.  the result was two of the greatest seasons in dodger history.  davis won back-to-back batting titles, hitting .346 in 1962 and .326 in 1963.  his 230 hits and 153 rbi in 1962 are still a dodger single season record.  for his efforts, davis made the all-star team both years, and finished 3rd and 8th in the mvp voting, respectively.  in the 1962 all-star games, he was a combined 0 for 5 as the starting left fielder for the national league.  in 1963, he again made the start and was 1 for 3 with a walk and scored the winning run for the nl squad.  later that year, davis hit .400 in the 1963 world series, helping the dodgers sweep the yankees and win their second title in 5 seasons. 

davis had a down year in 1964, hitting just .275 but still drove in 86 runs.  an injury in the 1965 season opened the door for another left fielder to take over.
lou johnson (1965-1967)
lou johnson stepped in after tommy davis injured his ankle early in 1965, and helped the dodgers get to the world series.  sweet lou  was acquired by the dodgers in april of 1964, but didn't play for the big club until 1965.  as davis' replacement, johnson hit .259 with 12 home runs and played good defense, helping stabilize the outfield.  the dodgers made it back to the world series, where johnson hit 2 home runs, including the game 7 solo shot that gave koufax the only run he needed to beat the twins and give the dodgers another championship.  johnson had a better year in 1966, and again helped the dodgers get to the world series, although they were swept by the orioles that year.  in 1967, he hit .270 while playing just 81 games in left, and was dealt to the cubs after the season ended.

len gabrielson (1968)
the dodgers had acquired gabrielson from the angels during the 1967 season.  he played a scant 57 games in left field for the dodgers in 1968, but that was more than any of the 8 other players the dodgers put out there.  they used wes parker, jim lefebvre, jim fairey, ted savage, al ferrara, cleo james, willie crawford, and even had rocky colavito for a short time in left.  in another strange twist to the season, gabrielson wound up leading the team with 10 home runs that year.  year of the pitcher, indeed. 

after the season, buzzie bavasi went to the padres, and al campanis took over as general manager.  he made a deal to bring some stability back to the position, landing manny mota from the expos.

manny mota (1969-1970, 1972-1973)
mota wasn't acquired until june, but still played more games as the dodgers' left fielder in 1969 than anyone else.  he hit .323 as a dodger, and then followed that up with a .305 campaign in 1970.  in 1971, mota split time between left and right to make way for willie crawford, but wound up reclaiming the starting left fielder job towards the end of the season.  in 1972, he hit .323 and earned some mvp votes.  he hit .314 and made the all-star team in 1973.  it was the lone all-star appearance of his career, and he pinch hit (not for pedro borbon) for dave giusti and grounded out.  while mota still played more games in left than any other dodger in 1973, he was easing into a platoon/pinch-hitting role that season. 
willie crawford (1971)
local prep star willie crawford was technically the dodgers' primary left fielder in 1971, although he and mota both appeared in 63 games there (crawford made 55 starts to mota's 47).  he and mota were also pretty close in 1969 (56 games/45 starts for willie to 64/54 for mota).  in 1971, crawford was only 24 even though it must have seemed he had been around forever - he had debuted in 1964 as a 17-year old - and he hit .281 with 9 homers and 40 rbi.  he would be moved to right field on a more permanent basis, so we'll see more of him when i get to the evolution of the right fielder someday.

that's all for part 1; be on the lookout for some sweet bill buckner eyebrows in part 2, coming soon.

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